This blog on Afghanistan, 2006 :
If we had a huge army, flush with success in many theatres, full of highly-motivated officers, loads of the latest technical kit, a hugely supportive public at home, total self-belief among the political and administrative class, no worries on the diplomatic front or the 'court of world opinion' , should we go in so that Nooria can go to school ?
Well, in the latter half of the nineteenth century we had all these things in spades. We chose to keep out - to restrict our visits to the punitive 'butcher and bolt' expeditions - pretty much what the Yanks are doing now. Perhaps we had good reason.
Rory Stewart in the Telegraph, 2009 :
Sir John Lawrence, the new viceroy, persuaded Lord Derby's government that Afghanistan was less important than it appeared, that our resources were limited, and that we had other more pressing priorities. Here, in a civil service minute of 1867, he imagines what would happen if the Russians tried to invade: "In that case let them undergo the long and tiresome marches which lie between the Oxus and the Indus; let them wend their way through poor and difficult countries, among a fanatic and courageous population, where, in many places, every mile can be converted into a defensible position; then they will come to the conflict on which the fate of India will depend, toil-worn, with an exhausted infantry, a broken-down cavalry, and a defective artillery."
He concludes: "I am firmly of opinion that our proper course is not to advance our troops beyond our present border, not to send English officers into the different states of Central Asia; but to put our own house in order ..."
Lawrence might have been expected to have a more confident or arrogant view of British power than policy-makers today. But he believed that the British government lacked power, lacked knowledge (even though he and his colleagues had spent decades on the Afghan frontier) and lacked legitimacy ("the Afghans do not want us; they dread our appearance in the country... will not tolerate foreign rule").
The argument is contingent, cautious, empirical and local, rooted in a very specific landscape and time. It expresses a belief not only in the limits of Russian and Afghan threats but also in the limits of British power and capacity.
Laban, January 2009 :
One of the strange contradictions of NuLabs regime is the willingness to upset Muslims overseas while bending over backwards to avoid upsetting them in the UK (apart from the said overseas upsets). The retreat from Basra would at least be a mark of consistency, of bringing foreign policy into craven line with domestic, were it not for the fact that the withdrawal is almost certainly aimed at facilitating an additional troop movement into Afghanistan. Our boys will go from being blown up in under-armoured vehicles, short of body armour and helicopters, in Iraq, to being blown up in under-armoured vehicles, short of body armour and helicopters, in Afghanistan - all so that little Nooria can go to school.Times :
As for the armoured vehicles, EU Referendum is your one-stop shop for the full, tragic story.
A shortage of helicopters has forced troops to resort to supply convoys that are up to 100 vehicles long and stretch for two miles, leaving them easy prey to Taliban roadside bombs.
That's the military side. I'm not against having troops there on a 'butcher and bolt' basis to give Al Quaeda a hard time. But what we're trying to do is establish a modern democracy in Afghanistan at a time when legitimacy is seeping away from our own democracy. Hubris or what ?
I was never a fan of the project to democratise Afghanistan. The politics and culture of that fascinating nation are nearer to those of fourteenth-century England than to modern America.
The new UK strategy for Afghanistan is described as: "International... regional... joint civilian-military... co-ordinated... long-term...focused on developing capacity... an approach that combines respect for sovereignty and local values with respect for international standards of democracy, legitimate and accountable government, and human rights; a hard-headed approach: setting clear and realistic objectives with clear metrics of success."
This is not a plan: it is a description of what we have not got. Why do we believe that describing what we do not have should constitute a plan on how to get it? In part, it is because the language is comfortingly opaque. A bewildering range of different logical connections and identities can be concealed in a specialised language derived from development theory and overlaid with management consultancy. What is concealed is our underlying assumption that when we want to make other societies resemble our (often fantastical) ideas of our own society, we can.